Integrating Measures of Phylogenetic and Taxonomic Diversity and Endemism into National Conservation Assessment
Traditionally conservation planners and natural resource managers have looked to measures such as species richness, endemic species and presence and numbers of threatened species as surrogates for measuring the importance of the biodiversity in an area. Phylogenetic measures add another layer to these types of assessments and provide important information regarding the significance of the evolutionary history of an area.
The spatial database underpinning the Australian Natural Heritage Assessment Tool (ANHAT) represents an important source of information (see http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/anhat/index.html), for the conservation of Australia’s unique biota. Species location data within ANHAT is predominantly sourced and updated from State and Territory Governments, Museums, Herbaria, and CSIRO. By analysing the distributions of numerous species together, ANHAT seeks to give a coherent picture of the spatial patterns in Australia’s biodiversity and biogeography, invaluable information for scientists and decision-makers.
There is currently no publicly available approach to enable comparison and evaluation of the phylogenetic and taxonomic diversity of Australia’s biota and its biogeography.
Development of a framework for use within the public and private sectors will enable the incorporation of phylogenetic measures into biodiversity assessment. Improved understanding of the biogeography of Australia’s biota will facilitate environmental decision-making by local, state and federal government Departments. When combined with guidelines for public sector use, the framework for use of phylogenetic analyses will contribute to the inclusion of this important aspect of biodiversity into conservation and natural resource management.
Some phylogenetic diversity and endemism measures for mammals have already been tested in ANHAT, but the sophisticated interpretation required of the data produced requires similarly sophisticated expertise to enable it to be incorporated operationally. This workshop will bring together several biodiversity scientists and practitioners to evaluate the capacity of taxonomic and phylogenetic analyses currently in ANHAT to support biodiversity assessment, identify appropriate analytical and interpretive approaches to working with these data, and explore potential applications of these approaches in biodiversity science and conservation practice throughout Australia. The workshop will also identify an integrated set of phylogenetic approaches for biodiversity assessment, for both species and localities, with mammals, Camaenid land snails and Acacias providing idea test-context for this unified approach.
- Species richness: how many species in an area?
- Endemism: to what degree are the species found there restricted to that area?
- Taxonomic Diversity: how unique, in an evolutionary sense, are the species found there?
(based on taxonomic tree)
- Phylogenetic Diversity and Endemism: Evolutionary relatedness of species (based on phylogenetic tree)
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Workshop report (14-16 May 2012)
The workshop was held in Brisbane with 17 participants with experience in conservation assessment and planning, phylogenetics methodology and application and government policy setting. Participants were from government agencies, CSIRO, universities and museums. Participants included Margaret Byrne, Craig Costion, Darren Crayn, Dan Faith, Simon Ferrier, Carlos Gonzalez-Orozco, Shawn Laffan, Joe Miller, Craig Moritz, Dan Rosauer and six SEWPAC Staff – Brian Prince, Tania Laity, Jane Ambrose, Karl Newport, Jonathan Face and Annie Sharrock. Also involved in the workshop but unable to attend due to other commitments were Alaric Fisher, Frank Koehler, Andrew Hugall and Edward Biffin.
The first day comprised discussion and presentation of a number of applications of phylogenetic diversity and endemism analyses and their potential uses for conservation assessment and planning. Discussion ensued to determine how these types of analyses could address various aspects of government policy.
A number of options were discussed including incorporating some phylogenetic analyses in the 2016 State of the Environment Report, addressing international biodiversity conservation targets for 2020, selection of an exemplar area (or more) to feed into a policy for incorporating phylogenetic measures into conservation assessment and planning that is interpretable and has tangible outcomes applicable to both National Heritage Assessment and conservation assessment and planning. Various phylogenetic diversity (PD) and phylogenetic endemism (PE) methods were also discussed according to how they might meet policy needs, including PD complementarity, comparisons of PD and PE with reserves or IBRA regions, incorporating uncertainty of space and taxa in PD analyses, and residual PE (which can identify areas of neo- and paleo-endemism). Towards the end of day one, participants broke into two scoping groups to discuss various aspects of the work: a policy group, and a methodology and data group.
On the second day, case studies from Acacias and Camaenid Land Snails were presented, and a discussion of other genetic / phylogenetic datasets which could be of use in conservation assessment and planning. A scoping session was held regarding development of a policy paper about the application of phylogenetic diversity and endemism in conservation planning. Participants then broke into three focus groups (policy, data, and methods). Case study areas were chosen for Cape York Peninsula and South West WA. Datasets were identified that could be used immediately, policy settings discussed, and the methodologies required to meet policy objectives and interpretation of the data for conservation planning and management identified.
Workshop participants were allocated tasks and a timeline was compiled. A draft paper is due to be prepared for submission in October 2012.